“Ask a Priest: Why Did Jesus Enter the World When He Did?”

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Q: I know why Jesus was born, but why was he born at that exact time in history? – E.F.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: This is the kind of question that scholars and theologians and curious people of faith could spend hours discussing.

Any answer to your question is at best speculative. The Church doesn’t have a definitive answer.

An adequate attempt at an answer could fill a book.

Suffice it to say that the Pax Romana (the “Roman peace”) opened a unique window of opportunity when a huge expanse of lands, from present-day England to Morocco to Iraq, was relatively unified politically and economically.

It was an opportune moment for the Gospel message to spread from Palestine throughout the Roman Empire relatively quickly, aided in part by the elaborate road system.

The message of Christ was also interacting with a world shaped somewhat by the richness of Greek culture and philosophy. This provided some of the intellectual vocabulary that would help the Church articulate its teachings.

It would also prove useful as the Church showed the compatibility of faith and reason. This trait has helped the Church as it looked to preserve the best thinking of various cultures and philosophies without compromising the core truths of the faith.

All of this helped provide the soil, so to speak, on which the Gospel took root and spread.

Two books that touch on your question are James Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church and Warren Carroll’s The Founding of Christendom.

Of course, God didn’t need the Roman Empire or Greek culture and philosophy to reveal his message in Christ. Yet God’s methodology throughout salvation history has been to reveal himself through the stuff of human culture.

And he who is all-knowing has a knack for doing things in the right place at the right time.

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